‘Let’s Make a Deal’ host, philanthropist Monty Hall dies

 In Entertainment
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Monty Hall, the genial TV game show host whose long-running “Let’s Make a Deal” traded on love of money and merchandise and the mystery of which door had the car behind it, has died. He was 96.

Hall, who had been in poor health, died Saturday morning of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills, said his daughter, Sharon Hall of Los Angeles.

“Let’s Make a Deal,” which Hall co-created, debuted as a daytime show on NBC in 1963 and became a TV staple. Through the next four decades, it also aired in prime time, in syndication and, in two brief outings, with hosts other than Hall at the helm.

An episode of “The Odd Couple” featured Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) as bickering guests on Hall’s program.

Contestants were chosen from the studio audience — outlandishly dressed as animals, clowns or cartoon characters to attract the host’s attention — and would start the game by trading an item of their own for a prize. After that, it was matter of swapping the prize in hand for others hidden behind doors, curtains or in boxes, presided over by the leggy, smiling Carol Merrill.

The query “Do you want Door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3?” became a popular catch phrase, and the chance of winning a new car a matter of primal urgency. Prizes could be a car or a mink coat or a worthless item dubbed a “zonk.”

The energetic, quick-thinking Hall, a sight himself with his sideburns and colorful sports coats, was deemed the perfect host in Alex McNeil’s reference book, “Total Television.”

“Monty kept the show moving while he treated the outrageously garbed and occasionally greedy contestants courteously; it is hard to imagine anyone else but Hall working the trading area as smoothly,” McNeil wrote.

For Hall, the interaction was easy.

“I’m a people person,” he said on the PBS documentary series “Pioneers of Television.” ‘’And so I don’t care if they jump on me, and I don’t care if they yell and they fainted — those are my people.”

The game show gave rise to an academic exercise in which students are asked to weigh this question: In guessing which of three doors might conceal a prize car, and after one is eliminated as a possibility, should you switch your choice to the one you didn’t pick?

The puzzle sparked heated exchanges in Marilyn vos Savant’s Parade magazine column. (The answer to the Monty Hall Problem, Hall and others said, was yes, take the switch — but only if the contest is set up so the host cannot skew the results by offering some guests the chance to switch doors and not giving others the same option.)

After five years on NBC, “Let’s Make a Deal” moved to ABC in 1968 and aired on the network through 1976, including prime-time stints. It went into syndication in the 1970s and 1980s, returning to NBC in 1990-91 and again in 2003. In 2009 it returned on CBS with host Wayne Brady and is still on the air.

His name and show remain part of the language. Typical is the quotation in a 2006 Daytona Beach (Florida) News-Journal profile of a no-nonsense bail bondswoman who says, “I’m not Monty Hall and this isn’t ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ ”

Hall also guest-starred in sitcoms and appeared in TV commercials. And with the wealth that the game show brought, he made philanthropy and fundraising his avocation. He spent 200 days a year at it, he said, estimating in the late 1990s that he had coaxed $700 million from donors.

His daughter Sharon estimated that Hall managed to raise nearly $1 billion for charity over his lifetime.

Another daughter, Joanna Gleason, is a longtime Broadway and television actress. She won a Tony in 1988 for best actress in a musical for “Into the Woods” and was nominated for Tonys two other times.

Born Monty Halparin in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada, Hall grew up during the Depression. In 1942, Hall was doing manual labor at the time when a wealthy stranger offered to pay for his college education on condition that he repaid the money, got top grades, kept his benefactor’s name anonymous and agreed to help someone else.

Hall only revealed the name of the late Max Freed about 30 years later.

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